“Smile, Darn Ya, Smile” isn’t the very first Merrie Melodies cartoon (that honour belongs to “Sinkin’ In The Bathtub”) but it’s one that I’ve had echoing around in my head a lot lately. Mainly the bass clarinet melody timed to the cow chewing. At least I think it’s a bass clarinet…
A lot of the early WB black-and-whites were pretty much the music videos of their era – Warner Brothers specifically wanted the shorts for promoting their back catalogue so people would buy the sheet music. Into colour and beyond, even as far along as Tiny Toon Adventures, WB’s cartoon composers would continue quoting these pieces in their soundtracks. They’re great tunes and they still sound great today.
The animation style isn’t as crude as say the Felix the Cat shorts of the early 1920s but it would be a few years before Walt Disney started pushing the techniques of animation towards fine art (see the twelve principles, or even just read The Illusion of Life). Stylised “rubber hose” motion was still AOK – it seems to be a lost art these days after over 70 years of higher artistry prevailing. (I wonder if it can be done using 3D-based CG…)
Anyway, I’m definitely up for rubber hose animation that bounces along to a swung 2/4 beat with a sense of playful mischief. It’s properly uplifting stuff made for seriously downtrodden times, even if sometimes the casual racial caricatures are a bit cringeworthy. (Witness Harman-Ising’s original Bosko demo to WB where a newly-drawn Bosko jokes about being “just out of the pen”. Ouch.)
“Smile, Darn Ya, Smile” is available in restored form as part of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection box set (Volume 6, Disc 3) along with other old black-and-white cartoons from the 1930s.